DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The cracked, patched and deteriorating track held up better than most of the cars and some of the competitors.
A wild night race at Daytona International Speedway — the last one on the track's 32-year-old surface — ended with Kevin Harvick taking the checkered flag, teammate Clint Bowyer spinning through the infield grass and several angry drivers searching for answers.
Just another restrictor-plate race? Maybe. But this one also might be remembered as one of the more chaotic events at NASCAR's most famous track.
"Every time I looked up, there was a crash going on," second-place finisher Kasey Kahne said.
It sure seemed that way, especially over the final 45 laps Saturday night.
Despite a record 18 leaders and 47 lead changes, the real excitement resulted from six multi-car crashes in the second half of the race that essentially wiped out half the field. The biggest of them all, a 20-car melee that included four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, came with 12 laps to go and halted action for 20 minutes.
There was even more commotion after the race. With fireworks exploding high above the track and smoke lingering from Harvick's celebratory burnout, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch had a heated exchange.
Edwards felt Busch roughed him up on the final lap. Busch's car hit the wall just past the finish line following the contact.
"He ended up wrecking himself," Edwards said. "I guess it didn't work out for him. I think he was frustrated he didn't have a good day."
Busch refused to talk to Edwards after climbing out of his car, then reminded everyone that Edwards was the same driver who deliberately retaliated against Busch's teammate, Brad Keselowski, at Atlanta earlier this year.
"He completely turned right after the start/finish line," Busch said. "There's convincing evidence of that. We've seen him turn right before and wreck a Penske car."
With the last-lap action taking place in his rearview mirror, Harvick cruised across the finish line for his second victory of the season and his first at Daytona since capturing the 2007 Daytona 500.
"This has been a great place for us," Harvick said. "Daytona has been one of those magical places for us ever since we started coming here."
Kahne posted his third top-five finish in the last four races. Jeff Gordon was third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Edwards and Busch.
Junior may have benefited most from all those crumpled cars. He ran in the middle of the pack all night and even radioed to crew chief Lance McGrew that, "It ain't gonna drive good no matter what." But Earnhardt eluded the big one with a nifty move low and avoided a couple more late wrecks for his fourth consecutive finish in the top 11.
This one moved him into 11th place in the all-important Chase for the championship.
"We got lucky, real lucky to get what we got," Earnhardt said. "I'm proud of the work the guys did, but you'd rather be good than lucky. Anybody wants to trade you some luck like they all did tonight, we'll take it."
Others felt the same way.
Reed Sorenson (eighth), Mike Bliss (ninth), Scott Speed (10th), Steve Park (13th), Kevin Conway (14th) and Bobby Labonte (16th) enjoyed their best finishes of the season. For Park, it was his first Cup race in nearly seven years.
"It was a great night, but it was ugly," Conway conceded.
The race started 90 minutes late because of rain, and drivers were cautious early on a slippery track that had even less grip than normal because of the showers. But it didn't take long for things to liven up.
AJ Allmendinger had a heated conversation with boss Richard Petty in the garage following a wreck.
Kyle Busch, who gave up the lead early because of a loose wheel, drove back to the front before turning into Juan Pablo Montoya and ending his night.
Elliott Sadler blamed Sam Hornish Jr. for his early exit, saying "I was trying to stay away from him."
Harvick and his Richard Childress Racing teammates, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton, were poised for a sweep before several late cautions.
A three-car accident moments before Bowyer took the white flag set up NASCAR's version of overtime, and Bowyer and Harvick had to restart side-by-side for the final two-lap sprint. Harvick wasted no time taking the lead, while Bowyer slid backward.
He ultimately spun off the track as Harvick took the checkered flag.
"I'm starting to get used to the fact that every race we go to is basically bumper cars at 190 mph," Gordon said. "It's just hold on tight."
It could be more hairy in February. The track begins a complete revamping project next week that could create even edgier racing.
"Just wait," warned veteran driver Mark Martin, who escaped a fiery crash unharmed. "We're going to do it bigger than that, I'll bet ya. Everybody better pull their straps down tight."